Town Councilman Pete Hammerle was eager to know how quickly a town-wide property reassessment could be completed to bring property tax rolls up to date at a Town Board meeting this week. He peppered John Wolham, a state representative from the Office of Real Property, with questions after Mr. Wolham made a presentation to the board on the process of reassessment.
“I would say that if East Hampton said, ‘We’re going to do this here and now,’” Mr. Wolham told Mr. Hammerle, “May 2011 would be the earliest date” at which the town could complete a reassessment and generate an updated tax roll.
The board invited Mr. Wolham to make a presentation on reassessment after Supervisor Bill McGintee publicly expressed interest in the idea last spring. He said then that, because so many town assessments are out of date and fail to reflect current market values, a reassessment could mean millions in new revenue for the town if property tax rates are kept the same.
After Mr. Wolham’s presentation, Supervisor McGintee commented that the goal of reassessment “is to fairly distribute the tax burden.” He asked Mr. Wolham if long-term financing of a reassessment is possible and if it is something that can be paid for by bonds. Mr. Wolham answered yes to both questions.
Councilman Hammerle asked what would have to happen if the town wanted to start planning to budget for a reassessment. “I hear from my assessors that this needs to be straightened out sooner rather than later,” Mr. Hammerle said.
Mr. Wolham replied that if the board sought proposals from a firm to carry out the reassessment now, it could select one by sometime in May and the firm could start gathering data by May or June. He emphasized that, because East Hampton has a fair number of houses occupied only seasonally, it would be beneficial to do data collection in the summer, when there is a greater likelihood of access to houses in order to conduct appraisals.
Mr. Wolham said that he’d be surprised if the town received any bids for less than $100 per parcel. There are about 24,000 properties in the town so the cost could be about $2.4 million.
East Hampton Town has never done a reassessment to reflect current market values, unlike its neighbors Southampton and Shelter Island. Mr. Wolham explained that the owners of properties that have appreciated the most over time are paying less than their fair share of the tax burden because their properties are under-assessed. He gave an example, “the Smith and Jones homes,” in two different parts of town. They start out with an equal value and tax bill. Twenty years later, with no reassessment, Smith’s value has tripled and Jones’ value increased modestly, because of a less desirable location or other market factors—but the owners still pay the same taxes. That means Jones is subsidizing Smith, he said.
Councilman Brad Loewen expressed concern that, in actuality, this ideal of equalization won’t work.
“In East Hampton, instead of Smith and Jones, we have the Bennetts and the Seinfelds,” Councilman Loewen said. “We have a lot, a lot of Bennetts, who have been here a long time, and they live on the lower value properties in Springs and Montauk. I want to know what they will end up paying. And what will the Seinfelds be paying? I hope more.”
Mr. Wolham didn’t respond directly but talked about how reassessment redistributes the tax burden so each taxpayer pays his or her fair share.